Lisik rediscovers guitar after surgery

Not being able to play for a year made Brian Lisik a better guitar player.

Lisik always considered himself a singer-songwriter first, talents on ample display on his CDs. Playing guitar simply was a way to deliver the music.

He dismissed the occasional tingling and numbness in his left pinkie to age and arthritis until one night in State College, Pa., when he couldn’t make his left hand do what he wanted.

“I thought I was having a stroke,” he said.

He muscled through the gig with the help of a shot — probably more than one — and a bag of ice. Not wanting to cancel any gigs, he continued to do shows with his band, the Unfortunates, by just singing and leaving the guitar to someone else.

Lisik had a pinched nerve in his elbow that required two surgeries, procedures he compared to the Tommy John surgery that many baseball pitchers face. And, like a pitcher, it took about a year to recuperate and rehabilitate the elbow.

“My doctor said, ‘I’m glad you’re a musician. Musicians and athletes get so scared about not being able to play anymore, they follow doctor’s orders.”

Playing guitar became the best way for him to rehab the elbow, and the work made him fall in love with the instrument.

“I’ve become this guy who walks into guitar shops,” Lisik said. “I’m intrigued by the instrument again, or maybe for the first time. I’ve become this guitar geek.

“I think I’ve gotten better and my playing has become more musical than it was. I play a lot more guitar now than I used to. Before it was, ‘I’ve got a gig coming up. Let’s pull out the guitar and see what I remember.'”

He believes the results can be heard on “We’re Sorry,” the latest album by Brian Lisik and the Unfortunates. For a guy who described his songwriting as trying to make his words “fit into a G, a D and A — Hey, it worked for John Mellencamp for a hundred years,” “We’re Sorry” is more musically adventurous. Some of the songs predate the surgeries, he said, so he may have moved in that direction regardless, but his new-found fascination with the guitar clearly influenced the songs.

The band shines on the new record, but his bandmates also teased him about new interest in the guitar. Lisik said that Steve Norgrove, his frequent songwriting collaborator and co-producer of the record told him, “You’re turning into a real guitar player. That’ll ruin everything.”

There are some more minor chords and other flourishes, but “We’re Sorry” still is filled with the raucous, bar-band rock that has earned Lisik frequent comparisons to Wilco and The Replacements.

The first single “Feudal Nights” has received extensive airplay on The Summit (90.7/91.3-FM), so did “Jan. 13” from his last album, “Curtisinterruptedus.” Lisik and the Unfortunates also have a cover of The Jam’s “Going Underground” on The Summt’s latest “The 330 Sampler.”

Lisik said the radio exposure has helped bring new listeners to live shows in the Akron-Canton area, and he hopes it has the same impact in the Mahoning Valley. Saturday’s performance at Riser Tavern & Grill in Boardman will be his first local gig since “We’re Sorry” was released.

He’ll be playing solo without the band on Saturday.

“It’s sort of like if Kris Kristofferson had a decent voice or if Bob Dylan forgot how to write good songs. That’s what you get when I show up.”